Treat Your Employees Like Entrepreneurs, Not Employees
I had the pleasure of interviewing Samuel Alexander Jr., CEO and Co-Founder of Concept 2 Consumption.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
My backstory, how did I become this guy? The CEO and Co-Founder of Concept 2 Consumption (C2C), a global ecosystem for Fashion-Technology businesses?
Well, the truth is that I’m a hay-bailing boy from Buda, Texas — what was then a very small and rural town south of Austin. My dad, my namesake, was also an entrepreneur and one of the hardest-working men I’ve ever known. And, my step mother was a seamstress whose clientele were primarily high-brow “Austinites.” You know, it’s interesting: I was raised in an environment that was simultaneously racist and race-less. And, I think that this has had a profound impact on both who I became and where I find myself today. Yea, I knew that there were folks out there who thought I was somehow different or lesser; however, I really didn’t experience that in a meaningful way. My community was predominantly brown (Hispanic) and White with just a few Blacks. The reality was that we were mostly all working-class poor, we needed each other, and we worked together to help each other, regardless of color. Having the experience of working with people from all walks of life — and, often being the only Black guy on the team — or, in the room provided me with the skills and confidence I needed to succeed when I first stepped into the fashion business world with Levi Strauss in 1975 — and, theses experiences have formed the tenants of my life, both in and out of business.
What do you think makes your company stand out?
Concept 2 Consumption, as the name implies is a B2B2C platform that allows users to connect to other entrepreneurs, manufacturers, retailers, etc. to manage every aspect of developing, producing and selling; and, gives them real-time access to their data. Everything they need is available to them through this one platform, which is super-efficient and cost effective, especially for smaller fashion and tech start-ups.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
What’s interesting to me is that Concept 2 Consumption has enabled me to extend my reach across the world. Sure, that’s true for any Internet business or e-Commerce platform, but what I really mean is this: I’ve been mentoring young people and designers for most of my career. Before Concept 2 Consumption, though, this mentorship was almost exclusively local — people in or around whatever I was doing in my shop at the time. Now, however, through the platform I’m able to help individuals literally from all over the world. I love this. And, because of the global connectivity, I’ve been invited to be a part of a number of really exciting and inspiring entrepreneurial initiatives. Most importantly, through the platform. I can immediately connect people within the ecosystem, which is not only decreasing the time necessary to bring a product to market. But is also improving the final outcomes, because of the powerful nature of collaboration.
For example, recently I was working with a group of guys who came up with a really great idea for a hunting boot. Through the platform, they were able to connect with one of my factories that has produced all sorts of high-quality fashion merchandise. The factory manager suggested some improvements to the original concept based on her design and production experience. As it turned out, she wasn’t able to do the production in her factory because of the technology integration requirements; however, we connected the group with another factory that does technology, as opposed to fashion, so in the end, we have a superior product because of the collaboration fostered through C2C.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
Honestly, every project I have the chance to work on is exciting to me. Helping people turn their dreams into a reality is thrilling to me each and every time.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Treat their employees as entrepreneurs, not employees. Challenge them to problem solve, to develop their free-thinking skills, and to act as though the business is their own. This can be difficult to do because as founders we too often want to control every aspect of our businesses, but I believe companies will flourish when every team member sees themselves as having a vested interest in the company.
None of us is able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
I agree. No one makes it “on his own” and that’s certainly true for me. There have been many, many people who contributed to both my personal and professional growth, which are inextricably linked. As I mentioned before, I attribute much of where I am to my Dad. He pushed hard. He expected too much. And, he wasn’t always nice about it, but who knew what I needed and what would motivate me.
One of my favorite stories is about a man who helped me when I was working my internship with Levi Straus in Chicago. I’d left Texas with a leather coat, which left me woefully unprepared for winter in the Windy City. A man who worked in the merchandise mart saw me come in several bone-chilling days. He must have known that I didn’t have enough money to purchase a proper coat. He told me to come into his showroom and to pick out a suitable winter coat. And, he insisted that I didn’t have to pay him the next week when I received my first check. Instead, he directed me to use the money to buy a good pair of boots — and, to pay him once I was outfitted. I’ve never forgotten that kindness — and, have tried to extend that same insight into what others need (even if they don’t know what they need) and to do so with love and kindness.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Well, I hope that I’ve brought goodness through the mentoring work that I do, especially with the college students with which I work. I find so many of these young folks are genuinely interested in learning from us old guys — and, they really listen and apply what they are given. I really feel blessed because once or twice a week I get an email or call from someone letting me know that something I shared with them, or did for them, substantively contributed to their growth, or their work. Maybe it’s a small thing, but I do a whole lot of it and in the end, I hope I’ve made an impact, one person at a time.
Can you share the top five lessons that you have learned from your experience as a “Black Man In Tech”?
1. Money is a Tool: You don’t work for it, you make money work for you.
2. The three most important things we have are: Our youth, our health and our dreams. Don’t give those up for money.
3. Peace is knowing that you’ve done the best you could with the tools you have at the time. If you’ve given your all, but the result isn’t all you had hoped for, its fine, so long as you gave it every effort.
4. Every day you should get up and get your inch — no matter how difficult, Get Your Inch Every Day. Before you know it, you will be at the finish line. Your goal will be achieved.
5. Stay in the present. That’s all we have
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
“It is what it is, deal with it.” The situations that lie in front of us must be faced as they are, not for what we wish they would be or could be.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this :-)
Wow, that’s difficult because there are many people I’d love to have the opportunity to talk with. If I could only pick one, it would be Barack Obama, because I’d love to discuss with him, and learn from him. I want to know, how was he able to deal with so much public scrutiny and criticism and to do so with such grace and elegance.